This review focuses on the state-of-the-art of the three major classes of gas contrast agents used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - hyperpolarized (HP) gas, molecular oxygen, and fluorinated gas - and their application to clinical pulmonary research. During the past several years there has been accelerated development of pulmonary MRI. This has been driven in part by concerns regarding ionizing radiation using multidetector computed tomography (CT). However, MRI also offers capabilities for fast multispectral and functional imaging using gas agents that are not technically feasible with CT. Recent improvements in gradient performance and radial acquisition methods using ultrashort echo time (UTE) have contributed to advances in these functional pulmonary MRI techniques. The relative strengths and weaknesses of the main functional imaging methods and gas agents are compared and applications to measures of ventilation, diffusion, and gas exchange are presented. Functional lung MRI methods using these gas agents are improving our understanding of a wide range of chronic lung diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and cystic fibrosis in both adults and children. J. Magn. Reson. Imaging 2016;43:295-315.
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